India may be modernizing, and a global revolution may be gripping the country, but as people, Indians are still traditionalists at heart, preferring to don ethnic wear on occasions, festivals and weddings.
The growth in the Indian ethnic wear market has been subtle, yet steady. Changing lifestyles, rapid urbanisation and increasing fashion awareness have all led to an incremental growth of the ethnic wear segment over the past few years, with experts reporting a significant rise in demand for ethnic clothing for both men and women.
According to a study by Technopak, India’s ethnic wear industry is currently pegged at over Rs 82,200 crore and is expected to grow to Rs 1,26,210 crore by 2019, according to consultancy firm Technopak. This market is dominated by the women’s ethnic wear segment, at 83 percent.
The evolution of the women’s ethnic wear category can be attributed to many growth drivers, the most prominent among them being the rising female population in India and the increase in the female workforce. These factors have translated into a huge opportunity for players in the industry to tap the increasing demand for women’s ethnic wear.
Women’s Ethnic Wear Market
According to Technopak, ethnic wear is the single biggest category in women’s wear segment with a share of 71 percent. Within the ethnic wear segment, the saree is perhaps the most popular with an estimated market value of Rs 39,350 crore – a 33 percent share in the women’s wear market – and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 2.8 percent to reach Rs 51,866 crore by 2027.
“Women’s wear today attributes 37.5 percent of the total apparel market size. Out of this, ethnic wear is one of the biggest categories in women’s apparel with a substantial share of 71 percent. The huge demand in ethnic wear is not only attributed to festivals but also to the rising trend of pairing traditional pieces with western wear – bringing the Indo-Western trend to both casual and formal wear. Moreover, the surge in demand has led entrepreneurs to invest in the Indian ethnic wear market. As young Indians embrace traditional wear, it transforms into fusion styles. It’s lovely that we as a brand can offer the best of both – heritage designs moulded into new-age silhouettes,” says Anita Dongre, Chief Creative Officer, The House of Anita Dongre, which promotes brands, AND and Global Desi.
“Women’s fashion in India has come a long way and in the recent times ethnic fashion has become one the biggest drivers. The women’s wear segment accounts for 87 percent of the current ethnic wear market. The unorganised segment consists of local tailors to small boutique stores that cater to the ethnic wear industry and has demonstrated steady growth over the past years and is set to grow further by 8.4 percent over the next decade. Retail expansion plans across metros tier -I and -II cities will contribute significantly to the growth of the Indian ethnic wear market. It is the growth of this segment that will continue to drive the overall sector,” states Ajay Kulkarni, COO, Ethnicity.
Fashion is an ever-evolving industry. Today the perception of ethnic wear has undergone a sea of change. Young women are more open to experimenting and no longer consider ethnic wear either dull or boring.
“Globalisation has heralded new industries and increase in number of working women has resulted in increased disposable income which in turn has fueled this market segment. The Internet has exposed women to fast fashion and has resulted in awareness on fashion trends and styling. As a result women are also experimenting with fusion looks. Dresses with traditional prints, short kurtis with straight pants are making inroads in everyday fashion. These combinations make the ladies standout be it at the workplace or at social outings,” says Ajay Kulkarni.
“Ethnic wear is not just limited to traditional occasions and festive seasons anymore. People are sporting these looks at the airport, for meetings and in parties,” says Avnish Kumar, Director, Neeru’s.
Siddharth Bindra, Managing Director, Biba says that with the modernisation of consumer lifestyles and changing preferences, women’s ethnic wear like the salwar kameez have transformed from their truly ethnic form to a more evolved avatar with different cuts and drapes.
“The salwars have transformed to pants, palazzos and skirts whereas kurtis have transformed to long floor length dresses, anarkalis and asymmetric flare kurtis. Today, fusion wear serves as a comfortable yet a stylish option for daily office wear, casual outing and even evening wear,” he says.
With this trend in mind, Biba has changed its designs over the years, culminating in the recent launch of a modernised ‘saree kurta’, gowns and casual wear section.
The origin of fusion wear has revolutionised the industry in more ways than one. As opposed to pure ethnic wear, fusion styles are the quintessential blend of tradition-meets-modern silhouettes – making them a perfect ensemble for almost every occasion.
“When I was in college, I used to do what is today called fusion wear. I would come back from Jaipur (Rajasthan) with big mirror-work skirts, leheriyas and bandhanis and pair them with ganjis or jeans and wear lots of silver anklets and bangles,” says Anita Dongre.
Anil Singh Shekhawat, Director, Pretty Woman adds, “Fusion wear has changed the mindset of customers drastically. Customers want to dress up in a different manner and are adopting fashion with a touch of ethnic wear and in modern styles, cuts and silhouettes.”
Kirti L Shah, Managing Director, Zola adds to this, saying, “Fusion has given a new spice to the ethnic wear collection. It gives a good option to the youth so that they can be trendy and look ethnic at the same time.”
E-Commerce: The Game Changer
Growth in the number of working women and increased disposable income has propelled the rise of online retail and e-shopping. The increase in e-commerce shopping has given a whole lot of advantage to brands and manufacturers operating in the women’s wear market.
“The increasing percentage of working women and their demand for fashionable work wear along with time constraints have made them more loyal to online shopping. Also, reasonable prices offered by e-commerce sites attract them to keep changing their wardrobes for all occasions,” explains Deepa Sureka, CEO, Taanz Fashions.
Siddharth Bindra explains this saying that with the sudden expansion that can be observed in India’s e-commerce market, most women prefer to shop online since it saves them time and all the hassle of travelling in traffic and braving crowds in shopping malls. Also, through e-commerce, women get to compare, view and choose from a large variety of competitors, designs and styles. Discounts, easy buying, friendly payment structures and return policies have been the chief drivers for this growth in the online women’s wear segment.
“Today’s customer is digitally savvy and has a range of options to choose from, which can be accessed from anywhere in the world. Customers are up to date with latest trends and fashions. In the 90s, fashion took months to reach small cities from metros, but today, everything is online,” says Anil Singh Shekhawat.
Anita Dongre says, “The Internet has revolutionised the fashion industry in more ways than one. Retailing internationally isn’t as challenging as it used to be. E-commerce websites have been a God send, helping designers design for a wider international audience. That is also why every designer tries to create an innovative product which, while appealing to the audience, remains true to its traditional roots.”
She says that about 7 percent of the sales of The House of Anita Dongre takes place online.
“The Indian ethnic wear is slowly taking on a global colour,” says Avnish Kumar. The global market has a huge demand for women’s ethnic wear. Deepa Sureka agrees, saying that this is mostly thanks to tourists and expatriate Indians carrying ethnic Indian outfi ts back to their countries with them and generating awareness.
She explains that the global opportunity comprises two major customers—NRIs and the non-Indians. For those exploring global markets, from an e-commerce perspective, sites selling Indian ethnic wear have projected the international market at US$ 2 billion in size.
Fashion in Tier II & III Cities
Anil Singh Shekhawat believes that since more than 65 percent customers are based in tier -II and -III cities, these towns are very crucial for any brand to succeed in the women’s ethnic wear category.
“These customers are spending more and saving less, and the major buying is done for lifestyle products such as apparels, footwear and fashion products,” he explains.
Siddharth Bindra feels that their target audience has been evolving with time the audience in tier -II and -III cities is not as evolved as in the metros. “Biba gives importance to not just metro cities, but tier -II and -III cities as well. The purchase in these smaller cities is largely during festive time.”
According to market research conducted by Biba, ethnic wear is a preferred outfit for women aged between 16 to 50 years in these cities. And understanding the increased demand due to these factors, Biba has plans to further expand in these cities.
Similarly, the women’s wear brand, Be Indi by Taanz Fashions has plans to expand its presence in tier -II and -III towns and cities through Reliance stores.
“With the entry of many International brands in the market, it is not possible to stay only in metros and away from tier -II and -III cities. We have already set foot in these markets and are looking to open EBOs here as well,” says Chaitali Giri, Designer, Chic By ChaitaliBiplab.
“Women from tier -I and -II cities are aspirational as well as willing to experiment when it comes to ethnic wear including with the styles, cut and fabrics used. As the Internet penetration grows in these cities more and more women customers are following the latest trends in the market and as a result there will be a natural demand for branded fashion garments of good quality. We already have stores in cities like Bareilly, Siliguri, Durgapur, Coimbatore etc which have great business potential to cater to this growing demand,” says Ajay Kulkarni. His brand, Ethnicity – which started in Ahmedabad – is currently present in 20 cities through 31 EBOs and 63 shop-in-shops.
“Fashion in tier -II and -III cities is understated, minimalistic and rates high on comfort,” says Anita Dongre.
She explains that it has also been her brands’ ideology since she started designing two decades ago. Right from the onset of her career, shehas believed that fashion should be accessible to all and it has been her vision to democratise fashion in India.
“In the future, the plan is to take both AND and Global Desi brands to more tier -II and -III markets as well as to penetrate deeper in the metro markets,” she says.
Delivering Affordable Fashion
Biba has always been the symbol of fusion and classic design with modern silhouettes. Siddharth Bindra maintains that his brand always brings new collections, having varied modern cuts and drapes in vibrant hues and comfortable fabrics like poly cotton and classic linen. The collections are rich in design having unique and intricate beautiful prints and details. With great quality in fabric and wide variety of designs, Biba succeeds in off ering the best of quality and range.
Through Be Indi, Deepa Sureka focuses on fashion oriented products that are price conscious. “We are focused on innovating style by rendering variety of silhouettes in various prints and textured fabrics. These rich fabrics and prints are designed by our in-house textile designers and we get these fabrics manufactured. The cost is also controlled by our in-house fabrication,” she says.
All these measures are closely monitored under strict quality checks and as a result they are able to present high fashion garments in an affordable range.
“Chic By Chaitalibiplab is a ready to wear label for working women with active lifestyles, between the ages of 20 and 40. The brand prides itself on providing great everyday designs which refl ect with intricate craftsmanship and Indian heritage, but are light on the pocket at the same time,” says Chaitali Giri.
With an in-house state-of-art manufacturing unit, Pretty Woman too offers fashion products affordable prices. “We are going to invest in latest machineries to get production as per market demand,” says Anil Singh Shekhawat.
Meanwhile, Anita Dongre asserts that her brands have always been a reflection of the woman of today and what she seeks. Her idea was to take high fashion to the doorsteps of the common Indian woman, just like Giorgio Armani ensured his premium brand was made available across Europe and the US by opening large number of stores. AND was created to fill a void in affordable everyday western wear that otherwise had only global brands which were not available in India at the time. The garments lend comfort and confidence with international trends to help customers create their own personal style. Global Desi, on the other hand is predominantly India-inspired and delves deep into its rich heritage of colours, textures and prints to combine them to create international appeal.
“Both my brands AND and Global Desi are incredibly affordable, where a kurta easily retails between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500. So, even though AND and Global Desi are designer brands that are priced sharply, more people can access them. Everywhere I go, I meet women who love either one or both brands and speak about how they have a lot of them in their wardrobes, and I like that,” she shares.
The Road Ahead
Shekhawat feels that the women’s ethnic wear category will remain the fastest growing category in the next 5 to 10 years. The trend will be more towards fashion consciousness and there will be greater demand for high quality, fashionable and affordable fashion.
“As far as women’s ethnic wear category is concerned, it has the potential for further growth. With the spotlight back on embracing our beautiful heritage crafts and designs, the ethnic wear segment will certainly move in the right direction,” concludes Anita Dongre.